Thursday, 22 November 2007


Tiger in zoo

(Note: I take the title from Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story”, a one act play. What could be more fitting title for any man-made zoo? This story was written on the occasion, when an architect friend from Vadodara City wrote about the proposed shifting of zoo from the Sayaji Garden to a location near Ajava Lake outside the city, and asked for suggestions.)

THE BEST EVER ‘ZOO’ is that made by the Nature. A zoo made by civilised society is only a ‘museum’ even if it is for ‘living’ animals. Museums are for artefacts, the stuffed animals.


Progressive people may make any effort to make a zoo near to natural environment to showcase living animals. It, however, is not anyway different than ‘Mickey & Donald’ and ‘Tom & Jerry’ stuff, or Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. They implant human virtues and vices upon animal world.

Howsoever vast wooded area may be available to ‘Chidia Ghar’ – zoo – at Delhi; the animals are kept far from their natural environment, restricted, of course, to cages for obvious reasons. There a larger proportion of land is left for the visitors, far too large for their numbers. Here again, the civilised ‘pleasure-of-seeing’ culture dominates. Humans ‘see’ the animals; animals look at the open zoo beyond their cages where humans pretend to move freely in their fragmented world. Perhaps the animals even may be thinking, ‘what kind of slum the humans have created to dump us?”

Sayaji Garden or popularly known ‘Kamati Baug’, including the zoo, at Baroda had once sympathetic environment in spite of its limitations until late 1960s. Its original design was maintained until then.

On the contrary, even a household garden could be a thriving wild life sanctuary in miniature if sensitively developed. It requires, of course, constant observation and care, which may take one closer to the elements and one may have divine experience of life. But man thinks s/he is the centre of the world, universe, and wants to control and dominate it. Then what about the land, water, animals, vegetation, and vast majority of people who are mute?

Features of a zoo

THE FIRST ELEMENT is the land (and water). The land should be restored (reforested) with vegetation: grasses (including bamboo), bushes, vines and trees of indigenous species. They should be fruit-seed-flower-bearing varieties, and condiments, spices, fibres, herbal medicines, and aquatic plants.. Grasses may include even cereals such as, wheat, rice raised by broadcasting seeds. There need not be manicured lawns.

If there are no existing watercourses and water bodies, than new ‘natural’ ponds and channels should be designed and created, by changing and building new contours to land.
This should enable harvesting and conservation of rainwater. Species of trees (vegetation) may be suitably selected for different animals in different areas.

Reforestation helps to restore and raise subsoil water table over a period of time. Reforestation also helps to restore wild life in the area. There is rich and variety of wild life in different regions of India. Some wild life may be introduced in the zoo; some will find their way into the area, for example, langur, squirrels, birds etc.

If human intervention is restricted in the land for reforestation during the development, the forest will grow faster and healthy.

THE SECOND ELEMENT is the animals. Animals include mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects etc. inside and outside the cages in the zoo.

It is already accepted that to keep wild animals in captivity is immoral, even illegal, and that they should be restored to their natural habitat. There are persons and organisations committed to save endangered species, help their breeding and leave them to their natural habitat. Zoo should be more than a museum.

How much area each animal should have?
How to bring security and sustenance to the wild life outside the cages?
These are some of the vital questions needed to be resolved.

THE THIRD ELEMENT is the human. The humans at the ‘zoo’ besides the visitors are the caretakers of the imprisoned animals, of land and water and of plantation. These humans are generally addressed as ‘staff’. Do they love and understand animals, land, water and plants like a farmer? Or do bureaucratic red tape and protocol bog them down, like executives, planners and experts?

How much land should be provided for the visitors other than for strictly pedestrian access – pathways? Of course, no automobiles other than in the case of emergency, no tar or concrete roads, no concrete buildings there at the zoo; only earth macadam roads.

Electricity should be supplied by alternative energy sources, occasionally supported by the conventional supply. Electrical lighting should be minimum and controlled by careful design.
Animal dung and droppings should be disposed i.e. utilised carefully. For example, some birds use the cat dung in building their nests to protect them from the predators.

‘Zoo Story’

‘Zoo’ reminds me of “Zoo Story”, the one-act play by Edward Albee. The play has many dimensions; one of them is the ‘animal’ in man, civilised man. In the 1960s once I had met the attendant of the crocodile park in the palace compound at Baroda. He had established a bond with the crocs, though one of his palms was severed by one of them. He used to enter the fenced area, call them by their pet names and feed the crocs. Zoos, however, most of them, are a vulgar display of man’s power over (or fear of?) nature.

The modern civilisation has taken the principle of ‘division of labour’ to the world beyond their occupations. They have divided the world into fine compartments. They have deforested the land and developed parks, created reservations for the aborigines, built cages for the animals, and created slums and ghettos for the fellow human beings.

It also signifies how the urbanites in the modern times are divorced and isolated from Mother Nature, even though she is the lifeline, source of sustenance for living beings and culture. The modern civilization, taking on entire view, presents a sick society. Their contact with nature, if any, like that with their religions, is only a periodical or occasional ritual.

Could the urbanites ever re-establish their kinship with nature in their daily life, within the built environment of cities? But this may not be a lucrative proposition in the capitalist economy? Providing a ‘safe corridor for the wildlife’, instead of zoos, through the cities could help the citizens to restore their physical, mental, spiritual and social health, without gating and ticketing. Does democracy matter?

The ‘Chidia Ghar’ – zoo – at Delhi charges Rs.10/- and 5/- for adults and children visitors respectively. In that price if they give a map of the zoo on a newsprint paper (free) along with each ticket, perhaps, the people can carry back home something as a reminder and wish to visit again. Besides they can decide and choose which part to visit. Then there is no need to draw and paint arrows on the road and guide the people like goats and sheep.

Remigius de Souza

Note: Image Tiger in zoo, Source: Internet
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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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